‘Kati With an I’ follows a small-town girl

Because his subject is his half-sister, filmmaker Robert Greene appears to have gotten an unusual degree of un-self-consciousness from the people onscreen in “Kati With an I.” This is documentary filmmaking in its most unvarnished form.

Greene had an inspired idea: Follow Kati around during the three-day period from the last day of high school to the end of graduation weekend. That’s a highly charged moment in life, and it’s felt everywhere in the film: the uncertainty of what comes next, the instant nostalgia for school years, the excitement of a big change to come.

We meet Kati in her hometown in Alabama, where she has spent the last couple of months of her senior year living with a friend. Her parents have already moved to North Carolina, and they chose not to yank Kati out of her class prematurely.

So she has a final pool party with classmates, hangs around with her boyfriend (a passive fellow who works at McDonalds, plays guitar and doesn’t particularly mind being bossed around by Kati) and looks forward to going to college.

Some suspense emerges when it becomes clear that James, the boyfriend, hasn’t committed to when, exactly, he is following Kati to North Carolina. Going to college is clearly her way out of this declining small town, but would she give up that exit strategy on behalf of puppy love?

When her parents arrive on the scene, visiting for the graduation ceremony, they’re certain about what they want her to do: Forget about James, and go to college. But the 18-year-old heart is not so easily swayed.

Because of Greene’s immersive style, which puts you in this world without any introduction (we’re never told that the filmmaker is her half-brother, for one thing), Kati’s story might be initially confusing. That’s because we’re seeing things at her level, in the swirl of decisions and leave-takings that surround these early-summer days.

In fact, it’s disconcerting when a speaker at her graduation ceremony begins to rant about how his generation ruined America by allowing progressive ideas to gain hold and how it’s up to Kati’s class to set things right. None of that jibes with what we’ve been watching, as Kati tries to deal with her own very specific situation.

Gradually, the movie draws you in, and then a final scene shot a couple of months after the main section is the clincher. “Kati with an I” is sometimes unnervingly close to its subject, and it gets at something hauntingly real.

“Kati With an I” (3 stars)

Filmmaker Robert Greene followed his half-sister Kati around for the crucial few days between the last day of high school and graduation night in small-town Alabama; what emerges is an unnervingly intimate, hauntingly real portrait of a young person on the cusp of huge decisions and changes, none of which are easy.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for language.

Showing: Northwest Film Forum.

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